Some 200 people gathered from July 1-4 in Manchester, United Kingdom, for a conference organized by the International Council of Christians and Jews. The theme of the conference was “New Neighbors, New Opportunities: The Challenges of Multiculturalism and Social Responsibility.”
|Dr. Kwok Pui Lan and Baroness Rabbi Julia Neuberger|
The conference was co-sponsored by the Council of Christians and Jews in the United Kingdom. William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, was one of the founders of the British Council, together with Chief Rabbi, Dr. H. J. Hertz. The Council first started in 1942 during the dark days of the Nazi era. It was born of the cooperation between Christians and Jews in caring for the victims of Nazi persecution who had found refuge in Britain.
Today there are about 270,000 Jews living in Britain, and the majority of them live in London. Manchester is a city with a very vibrant Jewish community, with 48 Jewish congregations and more than 400 different Jewish communal organizations.
I was invited to deliver a plenary address on “Jewish-Christian Dialogue in the Non-Western World.” The respondent to my address was Baroness Rabbi Julia Neuberger of the West London Synagogue. She is a member of the House of the Lords and laughed when I told her that I have never met a rabbi who is also a baroness!
In additional to the plenaries, there were workshops on the themes multiculturalism past and present; Israel, Islam, and interfaith relations; social responsibility; international interfaith developments; and the dialogic interface.
The majority of the participants came from Europe, but there were also people from Australia, Canada, Israel, the United States, the Philippines, and Uruguay. The International Council of Christians and Jews has chapters in 38 countries worldwide. In North America, there is the Council of Centers onJewish-Christian Relations, which is an association of centers and institutes in the United States and Canada devoted to enhancing mutual understanding between Jews and Christians. It publishes an electronic journal Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations.
This was the first time that I participated in Jewish-Christian dialogue in Europe, although I have worked with Jewish colleagues at the American Academy of Religion and other feminist organizations. I learned much about the diversity of the Jewish communities in various countries. The Jews first came to Manchester in 1780 to look for economic opportunities, since Manchester was a center of the industrial revolution. Other had arrived to escape the Nazi persecution.
I sat next to a Jewish leader from Munich at a dinner, who told me that there are about 100,000 Jews in Germany, who have come mostly from Russia after the German Jews were wiped out. I did not know that there are as many as 55,000 Jews in Uruguay, and only about 1,000 in Finland.
Although the focus of the Council is on Jewish and Christian dialogue, many felt that it is important to expand the dialogue to include Muslims, given the changing demographic in many European countries. Several years ago, the International Abrahamic Forum was formed to foster such conversations. Although Muslims are a tiny minority at the conference, it is hoped that their participation will increase in the future.
Given the European composition of the conference, the shadow of the Holocaust loomed very large. Yet Clive Lawton, co-founder of Limmud, which promotes Jewish learning in many parts of the world, said that we should not just look back to the past, but also look toward the future to see what the Jews can contribute to the 21st century.
One of the most sensitive issues, as expected, concerned the State of Israel and the plights of the Palestinians. I attended a workshop on “Karios Palestine,” a document issued by Palestinian Christians concerning the military occupation of their land. I was struck by the openness of the conversation and learned from seasoned participants who have worked for justice and peace in the Middle East for a long time.
A highlight of the conference was a gala dinner at the Knight’s Lounge at the famed Manchester United Football Club to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Council of Christians and Jews in the United Kingdom. One could also take a tour of the Club by paying 10 pounds. As a football fan, I regretted that I had to leave early and miss the fun of visiting the Football Club, yet I still enjoyed the conference very much.
Kwok Pui Lan is the William F. Cole Professor of Christian Theology and Spirituality at the Episcopal Divinity School and her most recent book is Globalization, Gender, and Peacebuilding: The Future of Interfaith Dialogue.